CHICAGO – The venerable Solider Field has seen a lot of events since it opened in 1924. Saturday night added to lore of the colonnades as it hosted Chicago and Pittsburgh in an NHL battle.
Ideally NHL ice guru Dan Craig wants the outdoor game temperate to be 42 degrees. In Chicago, it was a snowy, windy and cold 17.4 degrees when the puck was dropped. Bears fans may tell you it was warm compared to January football affairs.
The night started with the Plain White T’s leading a pre-game concert, and they were so bundled up there was no way to prove if they wore their namesake. As Jim Cornelison belted out the Star Spangled Banner the Chicago fans gave their usual response of cheering throughout; with about three times more vocal chords than a usual home game.
This was a snowfall that was full of large snowflakes. The only Fleury happening inside the stadium was the one in the Pittsburgh net wearing pads and a helmet in honor of the NFL’s Steelers.
Many predicted, with the weather the way it was, only ugly goals would be scored. The only Hawks goal in that category would be the Brian Bickell tally. When asked about the toughest part of his night the forward provided humor.
“Not think about our toes because my toes were frozen,” said Bickell.
The entire first period was played with high winds and heavy snowfall. The teams dealt with tough ice conditions that saw many shovels of snow when play was stopped.
Patrick Sharp gave the fans a reason to stand up and get warm with his late first period goal. The coldest guy on the ice in the opening frame had to be Corey Crawford who had very little work in his end. At one point the Penguins went nearly eight minutes without a shot.
Mother Nature must have known she needed to let up for the final forty minutes. The snow remained for the game’s duration, but turned light and fluffy. It became that picture perfect event in person and on TV.
In the middle period, there was another unique moment. Johnathan Toews scored a goal and instead of his usual demeanor, he skated to his bench and jumped into his teammates. For a game, Captain Serious looked like Captain Fun.
Late in the second period a little Chicago hockey history was made. Kris Versteeg notched his 100th career goal and became the only human to ever score at the United Center, Wrigley Field, Soldier Field and Allstate Arena. That is a piece of sports history that may never be matched. Keep that in your back pocket for sports trivia night.
The Blackhawks cruised into the second period with a three-goal lead and truly the night remained perfect as Crawford didn’t let any Penguin score on him. The lone Pittsburgh goal may have been credited to James Neal but Brent Seabrook whipped it into his own net. The own goal would be the only negative for the Hawks in the Stadium Series event.
Fans love seeing the snow hit the ice, but do the players agree? For the Blackhawks players it seems they were talking about just that during Friday’s practice.
“I think we were all hoping for a little bit of snow,” said Versteeg. “The ice crew did great. I think their legs and arms will be more tired than ours are in the morning. They did great tonight just to keep the ice good condition.”
Many of the game’s combatants have been out of their normal rhythm playing the Olympics and then the outdoor extravaganza. The theme in interviews after the Chicago 5-1 victory proved they were all looking forward to getting back to their normal NHL life.
The game may have taken a bit longer than usual with the extra ice care needed, but the NHL finished their Stadium Series pleased. From New Year’s Day in Ann Arbor to beach volleyball meeting a hockey rink in LA, a stop in the sunny Big Apple and a finish in snowy Chicago, you can bet there will be an encore next year in more cities. Sometime in the next few months the league will let everyone know how many stops the tour will hit in 2015.
Until we start this outdoor stuff up again hockey fans will have to go back to their regular games in their regular stadiums. Before we know it the Stanley Cup Playoffs marathon will begin and the chalice will be given to the victor. Maybe Saturday night at Soldier Field was a preview to who we will see battle for Lord Stanley’s Cup.
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